Book of Mormon: A non-violent text


August 31, 2010 by J. Madson

Id like to have a discussion about the Book of Mormon for a few posts. In my experience, the Book of Mormon is used to justify conflict by mormons more than any other scriptural text. I personally believe that this has been a mistake and a failure to critically engage The Book of Mormon. In my view, The Book of Mormon actually presents a strong critique of violence as a solution to conflict. To give you an overview of what Ill explore in these posts, here is a summary

When looked at broadly or a macro level, The Book of Mormon shows how both Nephite and Lamanite civilizations were founded on narratives and myths about each other and that their inability to give up those narratives led to self-destruction. It shows how violence only reinforces these narratives and stories while failing to address the underlying causes of conflict. In almost all cases Nephite and Lamanite violence only leads to more violence. The Book of Mormon is a critique of violence, a plea to be wiser, a call to lay down our weapons of war and instead imitate Christ seeking at-one-ment as Paul described it: breaking down barriers even histories or narratives, or as John Howard Yoder elaborated,

“The barrier is the historical fact of separate stories…. It is not a barrier of guilt, but of culture and communication. It is not a barrier between each person and God but between one group and another… It is not the case that inner or personal peace comes first, with the hope that once the inward condition is set right then the restored person will do some social good. In this text it is the other way around. Two estranged histories are made into one. Two hostile communities are reconciled.”

11 thoughts on “Book of Mormon: A non-violent text

  1. Forest Simmons says:

    The greatest approval expressed for any group in the Book of Mormon went to the “People of Ammon” who would not even take arms in their own defense.

    A few weeks ago, when reading the third chapter of Helaman where is details the beginning of a great migration out of Zarahemla to the land of Desolation, North of the narrow neck of land … while reading that chapter I noticed that it bracketed the mention of the migration with comments of concurrent persecutions and contentions among the Nephites, including the members of the church. The land was ripening for destruction. Among those who noticed it and emigrated were the People of Ammon.

    The next chapter (Helaman 4) details the destruction of Zarahemla and all of the Nephite territory South of the narrow neck of land in the land Bountiful. Apparently, the People of Ammon escaped the destruction by noticing the signs of the times, and listening to the warning voice of the Spirit, and noticing that few if any were heeding the pleas of the prophets to repent of their contentions and persecutions; so they got out of the way of the destruction.

    Verses eleven and twelve of chapter four give the reason for the destruction:

    11 Now this great loss of the Nephites, and the great slaughter which was among them, would not have happened had it not been for their wickedness and their abomination which was among them; yea, and it was among those also who professed to belong to the church of God.
    12 And it was because of the pride of their hearts, because of their exceeding riches, yea, it was because of their oppression to the poor, withholding their food from the hungry, withholding their clothing from the naked, and smiting their humble brethren upon the cheek, making a mock of that which was sacred [i.e. man made in the image of God], denying the spirit of prophecy and of revelation [i.e. not heeding the warnings of destruction to come from as a result of not repenting of this persecution of the poor, etc.], …

    As a result of the destruction, the surviving Nephites were somewhat humbled and began to listen to the prophets Nephi, Lehi, and Moronihah. Then Moronihah took courage and led the Nephites to retake half of their territory. But, by the arm of the flesh they were unable to do more than barely defend that half of their land and live in constant fear that the more numerous Lamanites would over-run them again. [Like the modern Israeli state worrying constantly about being over-run by their more numerous Arab neighbors].

    Then in chapter five of Helaman we read where Nephi gave up the judgment seat (like his great-grandfather Alma had done about fifty years earlier) and tried the power of the word of God where the sword had failed.

    To make a long story short, the more part of the Lamanites were miraculously converted in less than a year(the 62nd year of the reign of the judges), and near the end of that year they happily gave back to the surviving Nephites the lands that they had occupied.

    Those who have ears to hear and eyes to see read these three chapters of Helaman (chapters 3, 4, and 5) and liken them to our day. Where do we North American Gentiles fit into this scenario?

    I submit that we are currently at verses 33 and 34 of chapter 3:

    33 And in the *fifty and first year of the reign of the judges there was peace also, save it were the pride which began to enter into the church—not into the church of God, but into the hearts of the people who professed to belong to the church of God—
    34 And they were lifted up in pride, even to the persecution of many of their brethren. Now this was a great evil, which did cause the more humble part of the people to suffer great persecutions, and to wade through much affliction.

    Just a few verses later follows the great destruction summarized in verse eleven of chapter 4.

    Study these three chapters!

    Then compare Third Nephi chapters 16, 20, and 21, where the resurrected Christ prophesies that the same thing will happen in the latter-days. Start with verse 10 of chapter 16.

    Here are the three main common elements to look for in the parallel:

    (1) ripening for destruction described in the end of chapter 3 of Helaman, and verse ten of chapter 16 of Third Nephi.

    (2) destruction by invaders that were ignorant of the gospel, as described in the first verses of chapter four of Helaman and the verses immediately following verse ten of Third Nephi 16. This destruction by the ignorant is important because the Lord uses the wicked to destroy the wicked. In both of these cases it is the ignorantly wicked destroying the wilfully wicked who have ripened for destruction by sinning against great light and knowledge, as well as despite great blessings of protection and prosperity.

    (3) the mass (almost universal) conversion of these mostly ignorant conquerors as detailed in chapter 5 of Helaman and as alluded to in the remainder of Chapter 16 of 3 Nephi, as well as detailed in chapters 20 and 21 of third Nephi where it makes clear that the converted conquerors and “those who join with them” are the ones that establish the New Jerusalem.

    This third point is the “great and marvelous work” of their time and of our future. In Third Nephi it is called “The work of the Father.” Through Joseph Smith, Jr. the Lord laid the foundation of the work, but the greatest and most marvelous part is yet to come!

    “And then shall the work of the Father commence at that day, even when this gospel shall be preached among the remnant of this people. Verily I say unto you, at that day shall the work of the Father commence among all the dispersed of my people, yea, even the tribes which have been lost, which the Father hath led away out of Jerusalem.

    Yea, the work shall commence among all the dispersed of my people, with the Father to prepare the way whereby they may come unto me, that they may call on the Father in my name.

    Yea, and then shall the work commence, with the Father among all nations in preparing the way whereby his people may be gathered home to the land of their inheritance.

    And they shall go out from all nations; and they shall not go out in haste, nor go by flight, for I will go before them, saith the Father, and I will be their rearward.”

    • J. Madson says:


      thanks for the comments. I will actually bring up Helaman 5 since it is one among many examples of how groups rejecting their hatred for one another and their narratives can lead to peace and miraculous events. Nephi and Lehi tried something different. Just as the sons of Mosiah did before.

  2. Forest Simmons says:

    By the way, you cannot really understand Isaiah outside of this context. The resurrected Savior intersperses and ends each of those three chapter of third Nephi with quotes from the Old Testament, especially Isaiah, so that we can understand what they are talking about.

    Once you internalize the Lord’s (Third Nephi) prophecy of the latter-days, then you have a good chance of understanding Isaiah. Otherwise you are destined to “liken us” to the Isaiah scriptures at a mere superficial level.

  3. Joseph says:

    Good points made by both J. Madson and Forest.

    I also view the Book of Mormon as an anti-war text. It was Hugh Nibley who pointed out that the reason the war chapters in the Book of Mormon are so brutally honest is to teach us to dislike war.

    I find it interesting that in the Church we do so much to avoid the war chapters in the Book of Mormon. When we do deal with them, we try to make them into metaphor – as a message to us it’s all about “spiritual” warfare, protecting our homes spiritually, etc. It is surprising to me that this happens most of all among the more dominant “hawks” in the Church.

    But if one reads Alma and Helaman as the brutally honest accounts of war that they are, the Book of Mormon actually becomes a very powerful anti-war text. I respect the courage of Captain Moroni, and I view him as an example of integrity and, in many ways, a Che Guevara type fighter for true freedom and equality. But his military approach got the best of him in that close friends were killed (i.e. Teancum), he himself died young (in his early 40’s), and his military campaigns ultimately failed in that his true enemies, the kingmen, took back over Nephite society shortly after his death. Is it possible to defeat a philosophy militarily and then lose politically (perhaps fascism, or the corporate takeover of government)?

    It should also be noted that Moroni NEVER started a war. In fact, he was among the poor who were always victims of the war. The causes of the war were always the machinations and propaganda of the rich and powerful among the Nephites.

    Note also that in the Book of Mormon God never tells anyone to go and kill families in their homes in contrast to the Old Testament where this happens all the time. Yes, the Old Testament justifies all kinds of violence in war, but as Joseph Smith pointed out, the Bible is only correct so far as it is translated correctly. The Book of Mormon, a more perfect record, unequivocally denounces waging war on others(3 Nephi 3:20-21 and Mormon 3:14-16).

    I have to add that J. Madson’s comments will further influence how I read the Book of Mormon. Moroni son of Mormon specifically states that part of the purpose of the Book of Mormon is to demonstrate the failings of his civilization, including the righteous members of it (Mormon 9:31).

    And I really enjoyed Forest’s explanation of the Helaman chapters and will read those in a new way now.

    • Tariq says:

      Good discussion.
      Besides never starting a war, Moroni is described in the Book of Mormon as “a man that did not delight in bloodshed,” (Alma 48:11) and he only ever took up arms to defend his people from oppression. For Moroni, going to war was a grievous thing that he only did when backed into a corner with no other way out. He never engaged in preemptive war or “nation-building”, and he always put a stop to the fighting at the soonest possible opportunity. Contrast that with the U.S. military, full of high ranking leaders who delight in bloodshed and who work to ensure that the training system and overall military culture instills the love of bloodshed into the hearts of the young people who join. Contrast Moroni with U.S. leaders who send troops to war not to defend Americans from oppression, but to control and oppress others. Based on my reading of the Book of Mormon, I can’t imagine Moroni coming home from war feeling like he had a good time and wishing he could “get back into the action”, but I have heard U.S. soldiers who said they loved their time in Iraq or Afghanistan and want to go back, as if it’s a video game or an action movie.

      Overall, the Book of Mormon describes two separate civilizations, 1)the Nephite/Lamanite civilization, and 2) the Jaredite Civilization, both which utterly destroyed themselves through war. By the end of both civilizations, there were no glorious stories of good guys versus bad guys; only sad, brutal stories of bad guys versus bad guys. The Book of Mormon teaches that ultimately, that is what the path of war leads to. National pride, patriotism, military honor; it’s all a bunch of hogwash that clouds minds and stirs up unnecessary trouble.

  4. Forest Simmons says:

    Here are a few references about how ready Moroni, his son Moronihah, and other righteous Nephite leaders were anxious to establish the peace and let the belligerents go free at the first sign of their willingness to stop fighting:

    Alma 44: 15, 20
    15 … and many came forth and threw down their weapons of war at the feet of Moroni, and entered into a covenant of peace. And as many as entered into a covenant they suffered to depart into the wilderness.
    • • •
    20 And it came to pass that Moroni caused that the work of death should cease again among the people. And he took the weapons of war from the Lamanites; and after they had entered into a covenant with him of peace they were suffered to depart into the wilderness.
    Alma 50: 36
    36 And thus were the people of Morianton brought back. And upon their covenanting to keep the peace they were restored to the land of Morianton, and a union took place between them and the people of Lehi; and they were also restored to their lands.
    Hel. 1: 33
    33 And it came to pass that Moronihah took possession of the city of Zarahemla again, and caused that the Lamanites who had been taken prisoners should depart out of the land in peace.
    3 Ne. 6: 3
    3 And they granted unto those robbers who had entered into a covenant to keep the peace of the land, who were desirous to remain Lamanites, lands, according to their numbers, that they might have, with their labors, wherewith to subsist upon; and thus they did establish peace in all the land.

    This last one is a real lesson in “love your enemy.” They gave them land to subsist upon.

    Contrast this with Mitt Romney who says we need more “Gitmo’s.”

    Are we even willing to make reparations for those whom we have wrongfully imprisoned and tortured?

  5. Murray says:

    I absolutely love these posts about the need to proclaim peace. Thank you all.

  6. Parker says:

    I think this whole discussion is all somehow naively idealistic. Of course the Book of Mormon denounces war and encourages us to lay down weapons of war…It is, after all, a Christian text. And yet a leader, a prophet even, can presume to put people to death because they are not willing to pick up arms. Many of the situations in the Book of Mormon, I am sure, were far from ideal–gross and sticky, blurring the line between war and peace.

    Preaching peace is easy–it is always easy being an idealist, after all. I can choose to look back on history and view Che Guevera as some shining example of a bygone era–an exemplar of spreading peace. I can choose to wear his shirt and tell others what a good man he was. But in all probability many of his followers would just as soon rape and kill a family in the name of equality. You have become and escape artist, hiding under idealism and refusing to face the reality of the past and future.

    The Book of Mormon is brutally honest in its summation of war and human nature. It will happen (and that includes in our time, too, does it not?), and when it does, we will be forced to do something about it. Situations are sticky…welcome to the real world.

  7. J. Madson says:


    thanks for commenting. Im not sure why you assume anyone is naive. This is a common tripe to dismiss those who would renounce war. Some here know the horrors of war upfront and personal. Let me push back on some of your assertions.

    1) Captain Moroni is not a prophet. I certainly admire him compared to many of our leaders today, but he was also a profoundly flawed man and did not have the fulness of the gospel. When Jesus came and held up examples for us to follow, it was that of the Lamanites who layed down their weapons of war. Indeed, the meta message of the Book of Mormon is that you will have enemies and you will have conflict but there is a running discussion on how to deal with them. The sword always leads to more violence in the Book of Mormon and in the end results in the destruction of the Nephites. For all of Captain Mornoni’s efforts, it did not end in peace. 8 years. thats it. and then more conflict, more violence, more war, until lehi and nephi broke the mold.

    2) There is nothing naive or easy about preaching peace. It is not passive and involves direct conflict with violence. There was nothing about the lamanites giving up their weapons of war on at least four occasions. Nothing naive about the sons of mosiah, lehi and nephi, and others that rejected the narrative we must use force. Some here have done that firsthand and nearly lost their lives. If you truly believe that we are talking about wearing a Che shirt or some other stereotypical view of antiwar protesters than you do not understand what many of us are about.

    3) I agree that situations are sticky and messy and yes we will have to do something about them. People may even die regardless of how we approach them. We can either imitate Christ in loving our enemies and seeking at-one-ment with them or we can resort to violence. In other words, will we sacrifice fellow humans for our own benefit, or are we willing to sacrifice self for others? Will we follow the sacrificial economy of Satan, or will we imitate Christ in his voluntary self-giving for others?

  8. mormongandhi says:

    J. Madson,

    Excellent initiative. I look forward to your future posts on the Book of Mormon as a nonviolent text. I myself started a series last year on studying peace with the book of Mormon ( Unfortunately, I have not come much further than to the end of 2 Nephi, So I am really looking forward to your posts on the matter, and indeed value the application of narrative analysis, since the Book of Mormon lends itself perfectly to that kind of exercise. From Nephi’s point of view, I am struck by the utter disgust he had to war and to the future contentions among his seed, and he hoped that his writings would contribute to averting the futurue bloodshed that he witnessed through his visions:

    “And now I, Nephi, was grieved because of the hardness of their hearts, and also, because of the things which I had seen, and knew they must unavoidably come to pass because of the great wickedness of the children of men. And it came to pass that I was overcome because of my afflictions, for I considered that mine afflictions were great above all, because of the destruction of my people, for I had beheld their fall”. (1 Nephi 15:4-5)

    It is clear from the scripture above that the Book of Mormon is an anti-war document and that it has a role to play in the latter day movement as well as in the peace movement, seeing Nephi’s reaction to the vision of the destruction of his people on the American continent and to what will befell the Gentiles in the latter days. Nephi hopes in fact that through his writings he may be able to convince his children to believe in Christ and, if possible to avert the killing and slaughters that ‘must unavoidably come to pass’: “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do”. (2 Nephi 25:23)

    In 1 Nephi 14, the great and marvelous work among the children of men is directly linked to the “convincing of them unto peace and life eternal”, or unto the “deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds”:

    “Therefore, wo be unto the Gentiles if it so be that they harden their hearts against the Lamb of God. For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and a marvelous work among the children of men; a work which shall be everlasting, either on the one hand or on the other— either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction, both temporally and spiritually, according to the captivity of the devil, of which I have spoken”. (1 Nephi 14:6-7)

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